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Notre Dame trying to boost recycling of game day trash

September 12, 2018

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Trains of large box containers pulled by an ATV start circling the parking lots of the University of Notre Dame campus about an hour before the game even gets underway.

When the vehicle comes to a stop, a crew from Great Lakes Property Maintenance jumps off to grab bags of rubbish, empty trash and recycling receptacles and pick up any other debris that might have been carelessly dropped in the area.

It’s a mess. Beer cans. Water bottles. Plates full of half-eaten food. Pizza boxes.

There’s no telling what they’ll run into, but the work has been fine-tuned over decades as Great Lakes with a crew of about 50 and a fair amount of equipment has handled the cleanup duties since the stadium was expanded in 1997.

The effort to clean up the tailgating lots, the stadium and other areas on campus following the game against Ball State University was considered a piece of cake. But the opposite was true the week prior when the Irish faced off against Michigan.

There were a combination of factors at work — the rekindling of an old rivalry involving two highly-ranked opponents, the return of ESPN College GameDay and a night game that provided fans the opportunity to party for roughly 12 hours before the game even got underway.

No one can remember more people ever descending upon campus — as many as 130,000, according to Sarah Misener, associate vice president of campus services at Notre Dame.

No one can recall more rubbish ever being left behind for crews to deal with either.

While it normally takes three days to return the campus and stadium to pristine status, it took more than that following the Michigan game, said Dick Stein, owner of Great Lakes Property Maintenance.

Fun times. But it comes at a cost.

Last year, the university hauled away 479 tons of rubbish and recycling materials left behind by football fans. This year, an effort is underway to ensure that more of the material will end up in recycling rather than a landfill.

But that will be challenging.

Misener said it was once allowable to have a 10 percent contamination rate in recycling — in other words food, garbage or even beer, water or pop that remains in a bottle or can. Now, however, the contamination rate has been cut to less than half a percent, meaning it could be rejected by a recycling company if it contains more than that amount of additional waste.

“The global recycling market has drastically changed,” she said. “In previous years they would accept all kinds of materials mixed with the recycling, but not anymore.”

To combat the problem, tailgaters are given two bags — blue for recyclables and clear for garbage — as well as instructions on how to separate recycling and garbage. About 120 recycling containers also have been placed around the lots for games, and the university hopes to soon have lids that would make it difficult to place anything inside the can other than aluminum cans and plastic bottles.

In other words, no more pizza boxes, half eaten hot dogs, banana peels, chicken bones and other items casually dumped in recycling cans.

Beyond trying to educate tailgaters as they arrive, the cleanup contractors and university personnel also are beginning the cleanup effort even while the revelry is still underway in order to create a positive example, Misener explained as workers bustled about removing debris.

It’s the same reasoning that cities use to remove graffiti and pick up litter — people are less likely to make a mess if the surroundings are clean.

“We’re hoping to build awareness and individual responsibility,” said Carol Mullaney, senior director of sustainability and continuous improvement. “It’s a matter of getting the message out to people and then making it more convenient for them to do the right thing.”

Misener and Mullaney believe most visitors will try to do the right thing and handle their refuse responsibly.

“There’s only a very small percentage who don’t care,” Mullaney said. The effort to improve recycling fits in with the university’s overall goal to reduce its footprint by cutting waste and improving efficiency, and it does connect with other universities to share ideas, she explained.

Whether it’s expanding the pre-game cleanup work, putting out more instructional signage or simply adding recycling cans, fans can expect the effort to expand, said Misener.

Despite the amount of rubbish that has to be cleared, crews aim to have the campus pretty much back in order by Sunday morning when they return to put the finishing touches on cleanup. On Monday, they focus on cleaning the inside of the stadium before some well-hidden trash containers on the north side of campus are hauled away.

And then it’s just a matter of waiting for the next game and praying for some rain to wash away the splashes of catsup and mustard as well as the distinct odor of beer - lots of it - that are the only remnants of the massive party that took place over the weekend.

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Source: South Bend Tribune

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Information from: South Bend Tribune, http://www.southbendtribune.com

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